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It seems a long time ago now, but in the first lockdown the roads were largely empty and most people were at home. 

If you asked them what they noticed, many people would have said to you that there was more birdsong as nature reasserted itself.  Of course there wasn’t more birdsong really, it was just that we had more time and less aural interference getting in the way.  At a local level all three lockdowns have led to a greater appreciation by Blackpool residents of one specific bird.  Let me explain.

The Turnstone is a familiar sight on much of the Fylde coast most of the year.  There are good numbers feeding on the southern lip of Morecambe Bay and roosting on or alongside Fleetwood Marine Lake.  There are some on rocky shore at Cleveleys that ride out the tide on the new sea defences.  Others dine on the see wall at North Shore and shelter on (or during storms inside of) the go kart track by the Cabin Lift.  A small posse reside in South Shore and much larger numbers feed on the rocky estuary edge at Lytham where they will often sit on boats moored offshore until their preferred food is available again.  In short they are pretty ubiquitous on much Fylde shoreline all winter, and a few non-breeders summer here too.

Their ubiquity has been enhanced by the fact that over the years they have become increasingly tolerant of human beings.  They are pretty much unique among the shorebirds of the Fylde coast in this regard, the others will generally scatter if you get too close.  Uniquely among their wader congeners they have built up something or a relationship with people, and can be seen hanging round anglers the length of the Prom in the hope of an accidental or more likely deliberate offering of bait.

Clearly the Promenade has by definition been a place where people will gather to walk.  But in a normal Blackpool year they are walking among many and varied distractions.  Lockdown hasn’t been like that, and more people using the seafront have been taking in the natural sights and sounds.  As a keen birder I have been approached many times this year for an exchange beginning ‘Stephen would you know what the strange birds I saw on the Prom were’ or similar.  And in each and every case the answer has been the same, Arenaria interpres to give it’s Latin name and Ruddy Turnstone to give the fuller English moniker as worldwide other Turnstones are available.

Ruddy Turnstone flipping pebbles

Turnstones are so named because on beaches will small pebbles they will tip them over to see what insects can be found beneath to eat.  This habit when seen is quite engaging.  Less engaging is that among their exceptionally varied diet they will take carrion when available on the tideline, even in some macabre cases human corpses.

Even though they are here all year round some of the Turnstones that visit us are real globetrotters.  It is proved from ringing that birds regularly cross the Atlantic from Canada to spend winter on the beaches of north west England.  When I was on holiday in Sal, Cape Verde a couple of years ago there was a leg flagged bird originally caught in America, though it seemed to have given up the transatlantic lifestyle and was residing there permanently.

I have a personal fascination with nature that adapts to humanity.  Often we end up getting intolerant of species that tolerate us – rats, feral pigeons and grey squirrels come to mind nationally.  In the UK Ring-necked Parakeets are in that category, though as a recent infiltrator this far north they are still generally seen as an exotic treat.  Turnstones are probably a bit niche to fit into that problem category, and hopefully residents and visitors will have a new founds appreciation of them from lockdown life.

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